Healthy Mind

6 Ways To Reap the Calming Effects of Water Without Actually Being Near It

Photo: Getty Images/Halfpoint Images
It's not a new revelation that being near water connects to a bevy of health benefits. Research has connected living on the coast to lowered anxiety and stress, and proximity to water has also been connected to even a longer a longer lifespan. Furthermore, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, author of Blue Mind, coined a concept of the same name, which describes the calming benefits of water and being near it. But, what if you can't actually be in or around a body of water? Are you precluded from reaping any of the related healthy- and happy-life benefits? Not at all.

As a Blue Health Coach, I use the ocean as both the inspiration and the setting for my life coaching and retreats. I find that my clients reap a number of well-being benefits of it. And when we can’t get to the sea, we use “virtual sea” activities to bring the essence of the ocean to us. Below, mental-health experts who lean on the calming benefits of water outline six of those virtual sea activities.

6 ways to access the calming benefits of water without actually being near it

1. Listen to the sounds of the sea

I play the sound of waves during online retreats to evoke the ocean, and I encourage my clients to listen to the sea as they journal, work, parent, exercise, or ready themselves for sleep. To me, the sound of the sea echoes the rhythmic comforting sounds of the womb. Research has found that listening to natural sounds, including that of moving water, is relaxing to the brain and body.

“If I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I’ll listen to an ocean-sounds recording and synchronize my breath with the sound of the waves." —Nicki Bass, organizational psychologist

Listening to the sea can also help regulate anxious breathing. “If I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I’ll listen to an ocean-sounds recording and synchronize my breath with the sound of the waves," says Nicki Bass, an organizational psychologist and coach based in the UK. "It’s immediately calming. I recommend it to my clients, my children, and all those who find mindfulness challenging. By focusing on the sounds, their breath often automatically starts to calm and find a rhythm.”

2. Visualize the sea

Bringing the sea to mind can also help facilitate calmness one might associate with actually being near water. To do it, “first take an inventory of how you feel, [including] your levels of anxiety, the pace of your thoughts, and how connected you feel to your body," says Brooklyn-based psychotherapist Joy Radish, LCAT. "Take a few minutes to invoke an image of a body of water that you like, and hold it in your awareness. Notice the colors, the details, and even the smells that arise from the image. Then allow yourself to release it. Take a few minutes to re-orient yourself, and notice any shifts in your breath, in your body, in your thoughts, or in your emotions. If you feel more calm or peaceful, this might be a great practice to repeat.”

3. Try a guided ocean meditation

“Visualizing walking along a beach engages all my clients' senses, draws them away from their everyday worries, deeply relaxes the mind, and brings a greater sense of calm," says clinical hypnotherapist and nutritionist Nicola Shubrook. "The use of the ocean in hypnotherapy is like reading a child a bedtime story to calm them down before bed.”

If you find visualizing the sea tricky on your own, you could try listening to a guided ocean meditation, like this one recorded for my online community, The Sea Circle.

4. Watch an ocean-centric film

Watching a film with a strong water component the ocean can also calm body and mind (so long as you avoid inherently stressful options like, say, Jaws). The constant flowing movement of water serves up the perfect meditative cocktail that's at once familiar and constantly refreshed.

5. Display or view some ocean art

“When I’m running corporate workshops on resilience, I’ll position images of the ocean around the room to create a calming environment, take people out of their work mindset, and illustrate the importance of adaptability and managing change,” says Bass.

To replicate this for yourself, place a picture of the sea at home or in your workspace, and notice what changes.

6. Revisit your beachside vacation photos

Reliving your memories of joyful holidays by the sea can also shift your mental and physical state toward one of relaxation. “Simply visualizing a place where you were happy and calm can have a profound calming effect,” says art therapist Josh Millrod, LCAT. When you combine positive holiday memories with the benefits of visualizing water, that vacation photo album becomes a powerful relaxation tool.

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